The Employee Engagement Paradigm Shift

There has been a fundamental change in the way I think about employee engagement due to the pandemic, sheltering-in-place, and related economic crisis. As leaders, we know people are struggling to balance work, home, fear, illness, family, and on and on. We hear about painful and difficult personal stories every day and we feel compelled as employers to do something about it. As an HR executive, I’ve begun to ask myself, where does the line between employee and employer begin and end? With regards to our employee’s work/life balance, what is our role and how can we as employers help while still driving our business forward?

The Simply Irresistible Organization model

Taking a step back, I have been ruminating on the various concepts and theories regarding employee engagement and the employee experience. Over the years, I have based many of my HR practices on a slightly revised version of Bersin and Deloitte’s “Simply Irresistible Organization model”.

A new model for employee engagement

The employee experience model, which was once a balanced portfolio that employers were aimed at offering to keep employees engaged, has now shifted dramatically towards a deep focus on mental health and employee wellness this is encapsulated by, “the humanistic” approach to employee engagement, as stated by Bersin and Deloitte.

This model is a few years old but is still extremely relevant today. All of the pillars are still as important as ever – it’s just that the center components surrounding “Positive Work Environment” are even more necessary now than ever. Flexible schedules, driving a positive, diverse and inclusive culture, developing management capabilities and future leaders, as well as offering a portfolio of rewards with some recognition baked in are still table stakes for all employers to keep their workforces engaged, however, the middle pillar of “Positive Work Environment” is critical to helping employees endure their work/life balance during the pandemic.

Employers must drive not only a flexible work environment but also strive for developing a humanistic workplace where employees have the opportunity to work remotely or offer a hybrid (some office, some home), at least in the standard Silicon Valley SaaS company. Leaders need to offer to bridge the gap for employees by driving the importance of their health and well-being in any way we can, whether it’s pushing employees to take time off, offering webinars on managing stress & anxiety, relationship/family counseling, virtual work social events and even meditation.

Leading the Way

Furthermore, as leaders, there is an ever-increasing desire for us to drive cross-team collaboration and connection points for employees. I recently had a conversation with a senior-level employee who feels disconnected because their day to day interactions include generally the same mix of people. The need to create spaces for employees to connect – forums for connection and sharing – is an absolute must right now. Leaders are not only practitioners in their area of expertise but are now the glue holding the fabric of their companies together, and it’s precarious and tricky.

We also need to create space for employees to feel connected to us as leaders. Check-ins that go beyond the tactical are necessary for employees to know they’re being heard by their manager or leader. Shout outs and positive reinforcement are more needed than ever, and companies should be equipping managers with tools and guidance to do this as effectively as possible. A simple way to go about this is by utilizing a tool like FOND to assist managers with the rewards and recognition process. Our managers use this tool to provide high fives, points for purchases, and public recognition, and we receive regular positive feedback from employees about it.

Cross-Functional Comms

We all know that not all companies are the same and it is imperative that each work cross-functionally with leaders, their communications teams, and Human Resources to prioritize their employees’ needs. For example, an organization with a younger population of employees who may have been unilaterally focused on career development in prior years may be suddenly more interested in the way their careers have been shifted or impacted by the pandemic, or even the importance of diversity and inclusion, as well as social justice efforts and initiatives.  Ideally, any shifts in the employee engagement focus are also cross-referenced with employee feedback based on regular pulse surveys so that organizations are keeping a tight gauge on what employees need as things continue to change. Platforms like ours provide lightweight survey tools that can be deployed quickly and effectively to provide these insights.

As the line between employer and employee continues to move, leaders will need to relax into embracing the new norm. Creating a culture of openness, humanity, empathy, and general human kindness, are going to be crucial to supporting employees over the upcoming months. Employee engagement may need to narrow its focus on these key areas for the time being, but my guess is that this shift will be well worth it, and teams will come out stronger and more united at the end of this worldwide crisis.




Post Author

Regan Cain

Regan Cain is an HR Business Partner and functional Human Resources leader whose key focus is to drive alignment between HR/people objectives and business strategies.